A Georgia high school graduation took on extra significance for one student this week, when her family reunited with the man who changed their lives when she was just a baby.
Lava Barwari was only 36 days old when her Kurdish family fled Iraq in December 1996. Though Iraq’s then-ruler, Saddam Hussein, routinely targeted the Kurds for slaughter, Barwari’s mother was on the list of Kurds allowed to leave the country.
Lava Barwari, though, was not on the list, and Iraqi officials would not allow her to leave.
“I told the man I was not leaving without my baby,” Lava Barwari’s mother Awaz Barwari, told Fox 5 Atlanta. “He said I could leave her with other family in Iraq or not leave Iraq. So I said I wasn’t leaving.”
That’s when Lt. Col. Greg Pepin intervened.
“I told them if the baby’s name was ‘Greg,’ she could come with me under my passport,” Pepin told Fox 5 Atlanta. “They didn’t understand what I was trying to do at first, but then they realized I was trying to help.”
With the baby’s temporary name change, the family was able to leave Iraq.
Now 18 years old, Lava Barwari invited Pepin to her graduation from Mill Creek High School in Gwinnett County.
“I wanted him to be here because I wouldn’t have made it here or had a better education than my parents if he hadn’t helped us that day,” Lava told Fox 5.
Pepin said seeing the family at the graduation made him swell with patriotism.
“This is a real testament to this family’s character and their ability to make the most of their opportunities,” he said. I’m proud to live in a country that welcomes people in and helps them live a better life.”
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